A king's love for a Britisher's daughter brought Chail its moment of glory
Almost every hill station in India — be it Shimla or Darjeeling — tells the same story. Lush and plentiful in the summer, and with snow-kissed conifers carpeting their slopes during in the winter, these towns were made popular by the British.
The quaint names, sleepy railway stations, ancient churches, clubs and palatial bungalows, all have an old-world charm. Take a leisurely walk down the malls and markets of these towns, and you'll see that they still wear their colonial legacy. These hill stations were the summer capitals of the British, who lorded over them for severalyears.
Yet, there's one little hill station that resolutely defies the colonial hangover. It owes its existence to an Indian ruler who made it his summer capital. This is the story of Chail, located at a higher altitude than Shimla, and barely 45 km from there.
The the story goes that Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala made Chail his summer capital when the British barred him from enteringShimla. All because the Maharaja was romancing a daughter of Lord Kitchener, then Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.
A palace of his own
The Maharaja decided to give the British a fitting reply and went on to create his own summer capital in Chail. He first built a palace near Khandaghat, called Chail View Palace, and then built a road to Chail. Finally he got his own summer retreat in this little town, surrounded by deodar forests.
Ironically, Chail itself had been gifted to the Maharaja by the British during happier times!
The Maharaja was an avid cricketer playing several first-class matches, and had captained many an Indian team. He left Chail a trophy — a cricket ground that is the highest-ever at 2,140 metres; it doubles up as a polo ground as well.
Like many Indian towns, Chail has its own share of myths and legends. We visited a temple dedicated to a saint, Sidh Baba, built on a hillock by the King. The locals believe that the King had planned to build his palace here earlier, but the seer visited him in a dream and asked him to choose another location.
The Maharaja couldn't have found a better place to create his summer capital. With the Himalayas in the background and the valley beneath, the river flowing down and three dense hillocks covered with deodar forests, Chail looked every bit a royal capital.
The lights of Shimla and Kasauli came up as I stood there for a while watching the sun set.
Keywords: British colonial history